BOSTON (CBS) – Now that Chicago Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville has assured the media in the Windy City that Corey Crawford’s five goals against in Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final didn’t make the bench boss start thinking about turning to Ray Emery, we know that the rest of this series should be a battle between Crawford and Bruins netminder Tuukka Rask.
But to call the upcoming best-of-three series, which begins Saturday night at United Center, a showdown between the goaltenders is quite misleading. Because Quenneville should not be looking to replace Crawford any more than Bruins coach Claude Julien should be looking to substitute Anton Khudobin for Rask, who it should be remembered allowed six goals and lost Game 4.
On the list of concerns both these teams have, goaltending should be at the bottom. With two teams that are so evenly matched, this series is going to be decided by which team exacts its will on the other to dictate the pace of play.
After all, Rask heads into Game 5 with a 1.83 goals-against average and .941 save percentage. Crawford isn’t far off Rask’s pace with a 1.86 GAA and .931 save percentage. There’s barely a hair of space between these two net-minders.
No, this series will not be decided by the goaltenders. It will be decided by the men in front of them. And I mean all the men. Both these deep teams need production from most of their skaters, and tight defense from all of them. The last two games are a perfect example. In Game 3, a Bruins shutout win, Boston limited Chicago’s odd-man chances and speed through the neutral zone, got some timely goals and took the series lead.
Then Game 4 came along. Even the Blackhawks don’t want to play at that frenetic a pace. Let’s face it, a game wide open only favors the team that finishes ahead because track meets like that usually go to the team that scores last. But there were elements of Game 4 that the Blackhawks had to love, including their ability to gain the Boston blue line with speed and utilize their stretch passes to catch the Bruins napping.
So now it’s up to both sides to play to their strengths over the next two, and maybe three, games. It’s up to Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg to rebound from Game 4 and put the clamps on the newly reunited Bryan Bickell-Jonathan Toews-Patrick Kane line. It’s time for the David Krejci and Patrice Bergeron line’s to again establish a forecheck and create more chances. It’s up to the line of Patrick Sharp, Marian Hossa and Michal Handzus to make life tough for the Bruins’ second two defense pairs, and for Duncan Keith to start to play more like a former Norris Trophy winner.
There are a lot of variables that will determine the Cup winner, and a lot of players on the hot seat. Neither goaltender, however, should be in the cross-hairs. This series is all about the players in front of them.